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Planning permission and acquiring land for self-build

by on June 1, 2017

Self-build projects account for 7-10 per cent of new housing in England each year (around 12,000 homes); a figure dwarfed by 80 per cent in Austria and 60 per cent in France.

Barriers to self-build in England include; lack of available financing, planning and regulation processes and land supply and procurement.

In this article Sarah Chilcott, MD of Planning Portal, offers guidance on locating and acquiring land for self-build.

Researching opportunities for self-build

With space and opportunity often at a premium, it is wise to be as flexible as possible with both location and the amount of work you are willing to take on. However, avoid looking at too wide an area – find a balance between flexibility and focus.

As well as the location, size and quality of the land, it is also important to consider access, planning restrictions, available services and the environment in general.

A few common and effective ways to find land for building are:

  • Land search websites (you may need to subscribe)
  • Local authority register
  • Local knowledge
  • Estate agents
  • Auction houses
  • Press advertisements.

Self-build and planning permission

Planning permission for self-build either comes with the plot or can be applied for before or after land purchase. Planning permission is associated with the land, rather than the applicant and you can make a purchase subject to planning permission. Some agreements of this nature can incur legal fees.

There are a number of scams to be aware of, including land banking schemes and advertisements for land that will ultimately fail to get planning permission. Sadly, many who fall foul of these schemes don’t ever recover their investment. Always seek independent professional advice and if the plot does not come with planning permission approved, seek the advice of your local planning authority (LPA).

It is advisable to engage with your LPA, pre-application, in order to understand any constraints on the land that may prevent development. You can find these on the LPA websites, though if you aren’t familiar with planning and the planning process, they can be difficult to understand. Pre-application advice is generally chargeable but early engagement with your LPA can help you achieve a successful outcome.

It’s important to remember that LPAs can enforce very different rules. What applies to one part of the country might be very different to another. Consider local planning restrictions when putting your application together – it could save you time and money.

What are outline planning permission and detailed planning permission?

An application for outline planning permission (OPP) is generally used to find out, at an early stage, whether or not a proposal is likely to be approved by the LPA before any substantial costs are incurred. OPP generally applies to larger projects.

For smaller schemes refer to the aforementioned process for pre-application. The local council website should have forms and information on how to complete an application – there is normally a charge for this. If, following a LPA pre-application advice, an outline application is proposed, you can access all the relevant forms via the Planning Portal application process.

Once planning permission has been granted, a ‘reserved matters’ application must be made within three years of the consent (or a lesser period if specified by a condition on the original outline approval). Reserved matters can include details about the appearance of the development, access, landscaping, layout and scale.

Detailed planning permission (DPP) is the next step in the process and indicates that a detailed application has been submitted to the LPA. Location plans and other supporting information are usually supplied at this stage.

In summary

  • Seek expert advice whenever you are in doubt – either using a planning professional or early engagement with the LPA
  • Be aware of the risks of buying land for which planning permission has not yet been obtained
  • Always check the LPA Local Plan for any constraints on the land i.e. greenbelt, flood risk
  • Make sure you understand the different types of planning permission and what your responsibilities are
  • Remember that OPP is conditional
  • Rules and policies are not the same across LPAs. Always speak to your LPA for the most up to date guidance.

Read guidance on financing your self-build project, sustainability and Community Infrastructure Levy in our self-build guide

This article was originally published in i-build magazine. 

  1. One way to address the shortage of self/custom build opportunities is to encourage custom splitting. This would mean that many large and currently under-occupied houses could be split to provide two smaller homes; no loss of land, energy efficiency refit and downsizing in place. LPAs should include potential custom splitters and owners of larger properties on their registers. See for more detail.

  2. Andrew Campbell permalink

    Great article.

    Shame it doesnt address the real issue.
    Where I live the council do all in their power to prevent development by for example buying up land, making outrageous demands of self builders and nit picking on every development.

    The elephant in the room is local councillors and their NIMBY attitudes.

    Until development is taken out of local council hands the country is doomed to low house build numbers.

    No brainer.

    • Wayne permalink

      OMG you hit the nail on the head, my local council have drawn a line around all development at present and thats the boundry no if or buts. I have land and have offered to give some up for other locals to stay in the village they grew up in and self build with me. But the planners just say no every time! i tried to explain that local farmers would give up plots for local people (as i offered) and he said i didnt know what i was talking about as basically he/they had all moved to devon to keep it ‘as is’ no development. Just build 1 horrible new town and dump the young in there out of the rich & old peoples way/view!

      • Kulwinder Singh Rai permalink

        Settlement boundaries were originally designed to prevent rural housing sprawl but they have actually turned out to be nooses for countryside communities. They have been so tightly drawn that any available opportunities have been built out many years ago. In my Borough a target of 1300 houses in the countryside (which has 35% of the population) was set between 2001 and 2021. The idiotic target – based on now revoked regional spatial strategies, not objectively assessed need – was hit in 2007 (!) and so my council has been fiercely resisting rural development ever since, simply because officers are obliged to implement policy. With virtually nil new supply and steady demand, prices of scarce rural dwellings have rocketed, young adults have been priced out and either have to live in their childhood bedrooms or move away to urban areas. Meanwhile, in the urban ‘growth’ area, my council has consistently missed its housing targets by a massive margin in the majority of years since 2001. Having now (belatedly) realised that it will lose control of its local development plan if it doesn’t have a 5 year housing land supply, it’s been busy granting permissions for huge estates anywhere and everywhere in the growth area. To get developer-funded schools built to go with those developments its preferred option is to allocate housing in clumps of 500, hence the arrival of scores of character-free new estates. The sad fact is that my council now has zero focus on small scale rural development… because it’s time-intensive for officers to service and won’t help it reach its 5YHLS in a substantial way. And that’s conventional development… self-build is another ball-game that it has barely begun to think about yet. It if hadn’t been for the government allowing offices to be turned into homes over the last few years my council would have failed to hit its 5YHLS ages ago. Sad fact is the self/custom build is a low/zero priority for my underperforming council, as it is for most others in the same boat. They want big, faceless estates… as many as possible and as fast as possible!

  3. No mention of ppip or brownfield registers?

    • kirstymatthewson permalink

      Good afternoon Brian,

      Thanks for your feedback. Those are issues we are looking to cover in a later article. Please keep visiting the Planning Portal for updates.

      All the best,

      Planning Portal team

  4. Self build has another constraint that does not appear so easily with a planning application and can place the self builder in dire financial problems. I am referring to a planning condition in the approval for an archaeological investigation. These can cost extreme sums of money, gain nothing for the self builder but introduce lengthy delays.
    When only small bits of pottery emerge from these investigations the self builder, as is every other builder, penalised for no direct purpose

    • kirstymatthewson permalink

      Thanks for your comment. As you know, it is important to research the plot of the self-build prior to its purchase to understand if there are local constraints on the land that could affect development costs. Engaging with your the LPA or seeking appropriate professional help is certainly advisable.

  5. Darren gladwin permalink

    The self building article is pointless with the current planning process, the planning application law is still well out of reach to self build as the only plots to self build are to restrictive to urban areas where a self build becomes to expensive with the purchase cost of the land available to get planning permission due to plots available severely restricted to only urban area plots. The planning for single or low build numbers say less than twelve need to have a more relaxed process with regard to a defined built up area boundary.
    Planning in the countryside when you get outside of the big city’s is Zero! I mean ZERO, I had a planning application passed by the local parish council who know the area yet it was and predicted by the parish council that it would be refused by government planning policy and the said its pointless is looking as the answer would be NO even though they said it would and should be ok for a perfect plot to self build in a hamlet that only has around 40 houses, it is right beside the last house in a row and opposite 6 council houses build 40 years ago yet it’s a blanket ban building anywhere that has no school supermarket church under the planning law as if stands.
    As 1 house will bring no impact to environment why can’t the government planning permission be available for such a development? It’s a blanket ban outside a built up area boundary with no common sense outlook at all with the current planning laws. I’m not asking to build in the middle of a field in Dartmoor it’s a plot on a main A road three miles from the m5 motorway junction with a 24hr McDonald’s and a tesco supermarket 5 minutes away.

    • kirstymatthewson permalink

      Thanks for sharing your experiences on this matter and raising some good points. We always encourage early engagement with LPAs to avoid wasted expense. We would also recommend reviewing your local authority’s local plan which could prove useful when looking for suitable sites.The local plan should contain site allocations that have been reviewed and detail sites to be allocated for development for particular land uses; for example, homes, business and mixed-uses. The intention is to provide clarity to planning applicants and the community regarding the land uses that, in principle, are acceptable to the council on specific sites.

      The brownfield registers, which local authorities will be expected to have compiled by 31 December 2017, should be useful for building towns and cities. You can read more about them here:

      • Darren Gladwin permalink

        Thank you for reading.
        My main point is that in my area Devon, we have the same rules as London or other major cities basically.
        Devon has and don’t quote me but say 95% greenfield, it’s so frustrating with the blanket ban basically anything outside of a built up area boundary is a NO, this is without any knowledge of the site area etc, sites in the countryside are readily available to be built on as a self build for owner occupation yet it’s not allowed due to being under the same rules as the city, I’m once again trying to stress that as its Devon and obviously other counties are similar but we only have about ten to 15 towns and two cities so most of our county has very small hamlets with say 20 ish houses and many of these folk be it children that have grown up in these areas having no provision except for being sent into nothing more than a box in yet another massive estate in the city.

  6. permalink

    What can be done in a LPA area that is 78% Green Belt, settlements full of development and tight village inset boundaries to restrict further new buildings? This is the problem in the S.E. and Council members unwilling to grab bull by the horn because its a political hot potatoe. Self build requires a exemption policy adopted by Government to allow development opportunities for ‘small rural plots’ around existing communities.

  7. Darren Gladwin permalink

    Self builds need to have a completely new set of rules and be more relaxed as building in the town is different to self builders wanting to build the odd house especially if it’s for living in yourself, the current blanket planning laws for building 1000 houses for ecample is the same rule for building 1 own self build house, who needs a shop, school or church for a one off house like you do if a developer is planning to build a town? One off self builds need a more relaxed planning rule in green field developments in the countryside, I mean in small hamlets or suitable locations near main roads or close to services sites are a plenty and currently not even considered as they fall foul to the not in the defined area built up boundary rule.

    • Kulwinder Singh Rai permalink

      Couldn’t agree more. Small settlements that are on bus routes or near larger population centres with facilities should be prioritised. But they’re not. The reason is because most LPAs designated such hamlets and the like as being in ‘open countryside’ in their Local Plans over the last 20 years. Now that they are being asked to come up with new Local Plans they are simply using exactly the same outdated criteria to determine locations for development in the future. I have a 1 acre car park next to my house (with capacity for than 100 cars) that I have been trying to secure some sort of residential permission on since 2014. I live in an end, a small hamlet of 11 houses. It is just 2km from a major market town, 800m away from the nearest village and 450m away from the biggest farm Shop in the area. It is also on a LPA-designated cycling route (on quiet roads) and, wait for it, has a bus stop directly outside it. It is a prime site for development but, because it is not within the tightly drawn settlement policy area of the nearby village, the planners have refused to allow ANY sort of development. The new local plan – due in 2019 – looks as if it will simply replicate all the restrictions on development that the old one contained, albeit couched in NPPF-compliant language. When I point out that my location meets the Gov criteria for broadening access to non-car based travel they simply reply that the bus service isn’t frequent enough as there are only 5 buses a day. What would make the buses more viable? Development along the route. Who’s in charge of determining the frequency of our rural bus services? Why the Council, of course. You couldn’t make it up…

      • Darren Gladwin permalink

        I completely agree!
        They are blind, no one from government comes up with any new idea it’s constantly upgraded with the defined built up area boundary rule and it’s been the same for many years, so how can it be updated to help the self builder? It should asses cases on an individual basis and allow self build especially for owner occupation in areas that are currently classed as in the countryside as you and I both seem to come into this stupid non common sense rule, for example I have a shed that I keep horses in the guy next to me has exactly the same shed and he can turn his into a house because it’s agricultural yet I can’t turn mine into a house because I had horses in it and that is equestrian! Now I had to pay £660 and go through an absolute nightmare to get planning for this shed and the farmer for exactly the same shed paid £90 and had no problem getting permission, he’s now allowed to turn it into a two house conversion with potentially six cars say and it’s all ok.
        The farmer next to me has build a six bedroom house he already has a farmhouse he has sold it for £750k to an airline pilot the pilot had issue as it was agricultural tie now the tie has been lifted and the farmer has now applied to turn his barns into 6 houses and it’s all passed! I am renting a house we have a small child I am trying to get on in life I work hard and would love to build my own house on my own land be beside houses in a hamlet opposite six council built houses on a main road and I am not allowed. The planning system is a complete ass! No wonder houses are so expensive, they have NO individual rule and the one rule is certainly not fair across the country as it’s completely different in the countryside to the urban area yet the law is the same.

  8. RHODES permalink

    Some councils time and time again refuse to allow allocation for self build. We are told we have no land, there is 60 millions acres in Britain and one only has to drive down a motorway to see there is loads and loads of land so come on let the self builder have a chance.

  9. neil harriosn permalink

    The article simply provides information on the current situation. The current system is broken so why didn’t the author acknowledge that and proffer some solutions. The fact is that LPAs provide favoured status for large house-builders whilst encumbering prospective self-builders with costly and futile surveys etc and every other conceivable encumbrance and them laud themselves for being so helpful in the pre-planning application. Its a corrupt and broken system where virtually every blade of grass has been monopolised by the Big Eight (house builders). Give up on any idea of building your won house: its an expensive exercise in futility.

  10. Maggie Kirby permalink

    National Parks should be more flexible with “meeting local occupancy” conditions. We have owned land in NP for 40 years but still classed as not local as we havnt lived there for 5 years even though we have paid our rates to the same district council for 30 years

    • Darren Gladwin permalink

      Absolutely correct! I have no input into anything in the hamlet where I have owned my land for the past 20 years, I am liable for business rates as its equestrian yet have no say on any planning matters and I am not informed or allowed any say on anything all around my land with the residents adjacent to me more than happy to act like a cult to prevent any development opposite six council houses built 40 years ago for social housing that have been sold at £20k and now worth £180k and with no social housing available for myself and partner and child as I am not resident!

  11. Kulwinder Singh Rai permalink

    Self-build is clearly being viewed as an inconvenience by my LPA so it’s decided to treat it as a cash cow to dissuade applicants – it’s about to start charging for people to go on the registers, despite the fact that no neighbouring LPAs are contemplating doing so. As a Council, it is far more concerned with granting large scale planning permissions to house-builders to construct anonymous urban estates (minimum 500 houses) because it has a marginal 5YLS that it feels it needs to bolster. The fact that the estates will be as bland and bereft of individuality is not a worry for it. The possibility that its out of date Local Plan – which has effectively prevented ANY significant amount of residential building in the countryside since 2002 – might be undermined (before its new one is in place) is its No1 priority. Unless you’re a big builder, you’ll get little in the way of encouragement from my Council. If you want to build outside the urban area, in the countryside, you can pretty much forget it… look elsewhere.

    • It might be of no consolation to self-builders waiting for their local council to become proactive and provide serviced plots to those on the registers (6 plots have been offered to the 253 people on my local register) but, meanwhile, ‘custom splitting’ (see would provide the opportunity to create two or more ‘new’ homes out of one. LPAs will become as concerned about a failure to provide serviced plots as they are currently about a failure to prove a 5 year land supply, when permission is granted on land promoted by potential self/custom builders mainly on grounds that the LPA have failed to help or include enabling policies in their development plans.

      • Kulwinder Singh Rai permalink

        Already tried that. I have an existing circa 800m2 home that I suggested could be split into two, creating a pair of dwellings of 400m2 each. Idea was immediately stamped upon by the planners for the same reason… they refuse to contemplate ANY proposal that would lead to the the creation of a single further, extra dwelling – via whatever means – anywhere on my four-acre site, even if that proposal is to sub-divide an existing dwelling. Reason is the same… site is not directly in or adjacent to the village settlement policy area and so is automatically defined as an ‘isolated’ location in the ‘open countryside’ (even though it’s patently neither). As I said, the LPA’s blinkered desire to enforce the absurd restraints contained in a Local Plan, one that dates back to 2002, trumps all other considerations. I don’t think the Government even slightly understands the actual mindset of planners at LPAs – most regard the NPPF as a massive irritant, not a blueprint for sustainable future.

    • neil harriosn permalink

      Could not agree more. LPAs view self-builders as the enemy of their cosy, incestuous relationship with large house builders. Can the Department cease pumping out propaganda regarding their encouragement of self-builders. The big eight mega house builders do not make such large donations to the Tory Party to have competition from small independent house builders and self-builders. Do they think we are imbeciles?

  12. The refusal of an LPA to contemplate the sub-division of a house into two or more dwellings could well change when it realises the difficulty that will be experienced in meeting the duty to provide serviced plots on its self/custom building register. However, the attraction of making what the LPA might see as an exception would depend on the possibility of custom splitting being seen as an option for people on who might then come off the register. I would ask the Council for an update on the number registered and the number of serviced plots that have been and are likely to be on offer. If the LPA accepts that it will not be able to fulfill its duty it could then draw the attention of those registered towards larger properties available for splitting?

    • Kulwinder Singh Rai permalink

      Did that the other week. Have been told I might be charged for them to furnish the aforementioned info though. Which kind of typifies my LPA’s considerably less than constructive attitude towards the subject self-build/custom build…

  13. Tony permalink

    If you are building a register I don’t see the point in having it only possible in a defined built up area boundary
    The plots in a defined built up area boundary are not unique and are generally horribly restrictive in space and overall appearance
    Cramped up restrictive parking etc
    The plots are overpriced and hardly worth doing from what it costs to buy the plot
    You need to be more flexible in local areas outside of the defined built up area boundary like in villages and hamlets where people are forced to move out of for lack of permission strangling the local community and expecting people to move to Cranbrook where you are building houses like rats live

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